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…and so I close the final curtain…

I have reached the end of the road, or more correctly, I have really only started on a new road which is never ending: expanding my Personal Learning Network. I have learnt a lot, and now I need to put it into practice. I will continue to look for interesting online communities, and I will look for more interesting courses to do online. I have enjoyed reading the various articles and posts you have directed me to, and I want to continue to find interesting material. I now also need to become a contributor and not just a user.

Here are the two projects I did for this unit:

Thanks to the PLN team! I have enjoyed the course.

And here is to my digital footprint

footprintTechnology is ubiquitous and has a great impact on all of us. In my professional life, it means that it is much easier to stay up-to-date with developments and keep up my professional learning. Finding and accessing great resources as well as networking is easier using technology.

The impact of technology on us as citizens is both good and bad. In many professions, it allows for greater flexibility with work hours, which is generally an advantage. However, it is also a disadvantage, as you are always “on” – you can always be contacted and expectations to do extra work from home are common. This is not so much the case for me as a Teacher Librarian, but I see it all around me with friends and family.

Citizens’ digital presence should primarily be seen as a positive addition to our lives, as far as I am concerned. It is helpful to be able to connect easily with a wide range of people and find out information about people whose name you come across, e.g. authors and conference speakers. Using tools like Facebook also makes it easy to stay in contact with friends and family. Since I have lots of friends and family in Sweden, I really appreciate this aspect of social media. As with most advancements, there are also downsides and we need to be aware of the potential negative aspects of the digital footprint we leave behind. Personally, I think that I manage my online privacy fairly well. I have gone through all the settings on Facebook to make sure that I only publish photos and details about me publically that I am happy to share with the world. I am cautious with posting photos and tagging them. Having two teenage sons, I have to be particularly careful with tagging, but for different reasons. They really don’t want to be tagged by mom in “daggy” family photos that their friends can see. However, I don’t think that the potential dangers with social media should stop us from participating in digital communities. It is simply a matter of managing the situation.

As educators, we need to teach the younger generation about what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. Even if we don’t use Facebook at school, we need to teach our students about how it works and the digital footprint they imprint. Many of them do not realise how they are exposing themselves to the world and the effects this might have in the future. I read with interest about Jenny Luca’s lesson with Year 8 students, which seemed very effective.
facebook

I had a chat with a nice Year 12 student at my school, lets call him Bob. He claimed to be very aware of the digital footprint he is leaving behind and his privacy settings are very strict. He even showed me, and I have to say that Bob seemed to have got it “right”. According to him, “everyone” knows all about the dangers and don’t leave themselves exposed. When Bob says “everyone”, I think he really means everyone in his group of friends, who tend to be fairly quiet and tech savvy. Bob’s main means of communication with friends is Facebook. According to him, everything gets organised through different groups on Facebook. He belongs to various groups. There are a few different friendship groups as well as groups for the sports teams he is in. Some of his classes have also set up groups where they can ask each other for help or just generally whinge about the homework or assessment task they are working on. These groups can work really well and be a good support, he told me. The teachers are not part of these groups, and according to Bob, it would just be “awkward” if they were. One of his classes last year used Edmodo, and he said that this was quite good. He thinks that it is better for teachers to use a separate tool, like Edmodo, rather than “invading” the students’ space, like Facebook. I then read with interested the blog post from Kate Mildenhall about students not wanting teachers to “interfere” with their social media, which echoed the views that Bob had expressed.

My five primary characteristics of an effective learner are being curious, motivated, organised, creative and focused. Technology can be used to support four of these but for the last one I think it can be more of a hindrance.

  • Curious – As Cameron said, the vast amount of information available on the web only serves to stimulate the curiosity of an effective learner.
  • Motivated – You cannot learn if you do not want to learn. This means that you have to be motivated. As digital tools open up a lot more possibilities and cater to different learning styles, it is easier to motivate your students using digital tools. Everyone does not have to complete a task in the same way. Different students can use different tools. For example, some students might want to type notes in a word document, some might prefer to do a mind map using Popplet or Inspiration, some might want to record using Voicethread or compile a visual story using Photostory. The learning outcomes can still be the same.
  • Organised – There are many digital tools to help us stay organised, such as Evernote, Dropbox, Scoop.it and Diigo. It is essential to use these as you can easily get overwhelmed with material in a digital environment.
  • Creative – Being creative in a digital environment is easy and fun. Like Cameron, my artistic ability is poor, so it has been great for me to get some outlet for my creative side with the help of technology. For example, I really like Photostory, Popplet and Pictochart.
  • Focused – I believe that an effective learner has to be able to stay focused. Digital tools probably makes this harder for most people. It is very easy to get distracted and lose yourself in the wealth of applications and websites available. To stay focused in a digital world, requires determination and a desire to succeed.

There is no doubt that technologies will continue to evolve and it is hard to predict what developments there will be. Being the first to jump onto the latest technology, is not me. I am quite happy to let others explore and make the mistakes while I listen and learn. I am happy to try new things and change old practices, but I am always a bit sceptical about the latest hype. I need to be convinced about its merits. For me, it is very important to keep in mind what the learning outcomes for our students should be and how to best achieve them. We have to embrace new tools for the right reasons and not simply for the sake of them being the latest fad.

Images used under Creative Commons licence:
Footprint: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnera/3401972771/
Facebook:http://www.flickr.com/photos/frogfisher/6760170283/

Searching and evaluating websites

I have a genuine interest in information searching and have quite a bit of experience in this. Prior to being a Teacher Librarian I worked for an information provider which meant that I did information searching pretty much full time.

I looked at four different search engines for this unit: Sweetsearch, Instagrok, Google and Bing. In order to compare them, I did a search on “China’s economic development”, something I have been helping students with lately.

Instagrok and Sweetsearch are both promoted as search engines for students. Neither of these engines states how many pages are found in a search, but it is easy to tell that far fewer are found than with Google or Bing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I found the results too limited. Sweetsearch, which only presents its results in text format, only searches the 35,000 websites that their researches have evaluated, which means that the content has a strong American bias. The results are presented in an unattractive format, which would struggle to inspire most school students. Instagrok, on the other hand, presents results in a visual format and lets you add notes straight on the results page. However, I consider the results too limited and for students in the later years of high school. It might be quite useful for younger students.

Bing is Microsoft’s search engine and the second most used search engine after Google. Bing found a similar number of webpages to Google. Both of these search engines have Wikipedia within the first two results and have a fairly similar feel. I use many of the command terms available for advanced searches in Google, and I find that this really helps me to achieve good search results. Most of these seem to work in Bing as well. However, my preferred search engine is still Google. I like some of the features available in Google which Bing does not seem to offer, such as selecting pages published within a particular time frame or only pages which I have/have not visited before.

In Google, I had a play with different search terms, trying to find ones which display Google’s knowledge graph. Not many of the searches I tried displayed it. I then re-read your notes, and, as you rightly point out, it mainly appears when you search for people or places. Reading about the knowledge graph, I get the impression that it is still in its development face, and more will be added to it over time. It looks quite interesting.

Some of my favourite lessons that I teach are about evaluating websites. There is so much to teach the students and they need to learn these skills. I have now used the same hoax website for quite a few years, and, year after year I am surprised that just about every student falls for it. However, the website I have been using, http://www.rythospital.com, seems to be down and some of the material has been moved to http://www.malepregnancy.com. Unfortunately, this website does not seem to be quite as good for my purposes, and I might need to look for a new hoax website. RYT hospital was great, because it was quite “believable”, even for relatively smart 14-year olds. The lists of hoax websites you directed us to look good, so I should be able to find a good one from there.

When evaluating websites, I have so far been using the CRAP test with the students, partly because of the acronym which is something they actually remember. However, the students often struggle to distinguish between R – Reliability and P – Purpose/Point of view. I looked at the CARS test, and I think it might be easier to use and I will look now consider changing to that one.
For the task, I evaluated http://www.ushmm.org (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) using the CARS test. In conclusion, the website passes the test, and here is why:

  • C – Credibility: There is clearly a publishing organisation and the organisation has to be considered an authority on the subject. There are no individual authors listed, but the museum itself and its board are behind the website. The credentials of the board members are listed on one of the pages. There are no spelling/grammar errors, dead links etc.
  • A – Accuracy: The information agrees with other sources (apart from holocaust denial sources such as The Auschwitz Hoax). Looking at the museum’s home page, you can see that the site is constantly updated with “latest news”. The most recent addition is from 29/4/13.
  • R – Reasonableness: I suppose, to be truthful, you have to say that the site has a bias. The organisation’s intention is to educate the public about the horrors that were committed against jews during the Nazi regime. However, as their view is accepted by mainstream society, I don’t think that this bias should be seen to discredit the website.
  • S – Support: Many sources are listed and can be checked. The museum can be contacted either via the website or by traditional means of communication. Telephone number and address are provided on the website.

I added tags to the posts of my blog. It was a simple process. For this blog, I don’t know if the tags will be of any use, but I can see that for a bigger blog with many viewers, it would be helpful. In Evernote and Scoop.it , I use tags to make it easier to find relevant articles/links/files.
This unit took quite a while to complete, but there was a lot of useful material even though I was already familiar with a lot of it.

Share with Scoop.it

IMG_0277First of all, apologies for posting late. As you might be aware,  NSW had different school holidays to Victoria, and lying in the hammock on an island in Fiji took preference over doing the PLN course. Now it is back to reality and time for me to catch up!

Scoop.it is great! It lets you make digital magazines where you curate information about specific topics. In an educational setting, you can use it to direct students to specific web resources and you can use it with colleagues to share interesting articles on the web. It is very easy to use and achieves a great result with minimal effort.

Anyone can search Scoop.it without logging in. However, if you want to create scoops and curate, you need to create an account. To get an account you can either sign in with your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin account or sign up entering your name and email address. With a free account, you can have a maximum of five scoops, but there are also other types of accounts available, e.g. education accounts. These cost $6.99/month and allows for up to 20 topics with up to 30 co-curators per topic. Our school does not have an education account at this stage, but I am going to request that we get one.

Scoop.it has three very long webpages to spell out all the terms and conditions: Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy. I have not read them in detail but skimmed through them a bit more closely than I normally would. Interestingly, some sections are in capital letters. It seems to be Scoop.it’s way of saying that these are the important sections you actually need to read.
Some sections that caught my attention were:
• Scoop.it states that they can at any time, without warning, discontinue the website or delete your account and take no responsibility for work that you may lose.
• It states (in capital letters) that you must be at least 13 years of age to use the website. This means that teachers are not even allowed to direct younger students to a scoop.
• For teenagers aged 13-18, parents need to consent to them registering an account.
• Scoop.it states that they may provide your email address to vendors that it deems you may need. It does give you the option of opting out, though this is not easily done, as you need to send them an email to request it.

Scoop.it is useful in educational settings and Teacher Librarians, myself included, and some teachers at our school use it. As professionals, we can direct colleagues to good professional learning material by creating scoops for this purpose. Working with students, we curate material and direct them to a scoop for wider reading in a subject area or for a research task. This replaces a printed path finder. At this stage, we have not done any work where students  create scoops. However, I think that Scoop.it could be used quite well in this way, especially if you get students to add comments, i.e. “add your insight”. For example, when teaching students website evaluation, you could get them to scoop webpages and write comments (“insights”) to justify why they chose those pages. You could also use it for class collaboration to get students to share good resources .

I find both the SAMR and TPACK models useful when considering technology in the classroom. Considering where  Scoop.it sits on the SAMR model, it depends on whether the students are passive or active in the process. When the teacher uses Scoop.it to curate resources and directs students to it, it belongs to the “Modification” level of SAMR. In this case, using Scoop.it has, for example, replaced a printed pathfinder and the task has thereby been enhanced by providing hyperlinks to webpages, video files, podcasts, images etc. When the students are active users of Scoop.it and create or add to scoops, it belongs to the “Redefinition” level of SAMR. The students collaborate and share and the task is distinctly different to what was previously possible.

Our Economics students in Year 12 are studying “The Global Economy” with a specific focus on China. I am curating articles for them on a scoop called China’s Economy. (As Scoop.it is not on WordPress’s whitelist of websites that can be embedded, I had to do this as a  hyperlink rather than using the embed widget that is available on Scoop.it.)

That’s all for me this week. I still have to catch up, so time to move on to Unit 5. Oh, that hammock was nice…

Information overload

Greetings from Sydney, where we are not on school holidays. We don’t get our two-week break until April 13. Can’t wait!


Information overload

(Image by Langwitches, http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/)

The potential with online professional communities is enormous. Instead of just learning from a few nearby colleagues, there is “the whole world” to learn from. The only problem is information overload. Where do we stop? We need to be selective and accept that we can’t be experts at everything. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and so many good ideas to be tried and tested. This is one reason we need to network and listen to other people and see what has worked for them. It is just a matter of finding the right people to follow.

I have had a Twitter account for some time but I still haven’t become an avid tweeter. I have found some good people and organisations to follow, such as @jennyluca, @crikey_news, @teenlitereview. On the other hand, I still struggle with organisations like @edutopia which sends out hundreds of tweets. I don’t have time to follow them. I need to spend more time on Twitter to learn to use it effectively. I can see that it can be useful for my professional learning once I have found the right people to follow and have become more familiar with the format. At this stage, I am only a Twitter observer, but once I feel a bit more confident with the medium, I will start participating and tweet.

I have had a facebook account for quite a while. Coming from overseas, it is a great way for me to keep in contact with friends on the other side of the world. As part of this unit, I set up a professional account, but I’m not sure that I will use it. As I have already said, time is limited and you have to choose the information sources you follow. With Twitter and facebook I think I prefer to use just one of them, and I am leaning towards Twitter. It is easier to get a quick overview of interesting material in Twitter. Also, I object to the way facebook invade our privacy in very sneaky ways, so I am growing more and more anti facebook each day. I am even starting to consider cancelling my private facebook account.

As part of this unit, I had a look at Google+, and it appeals to me. I like the idea of circles to keep different parts of your life separate, but still under the one account. I find it a bit scary the way Google is taking over everything. There are definitely some clever people working at Google! Anyway, I will be spending some time getting used to yet one more Google product.

I don’t know that I will be using any of these products to communicate with students at this stage. At our school, both facebook and Twitter are blocked for students, so it is not possible anyway. At this stage, we mainly use email to communicate with students (besides face-to-face!). Edmodo is starting to be used by some teachers, and we are waiting for a new feature in our portal which is meant to work like Edmodo, but I don’t know much about it yet.

Finished Unit 2

Finally, finished unit 2 of the course. I have been busy doing my “normal work”, and the unit has been completed in bits and pieces as time has allowed. I have enjoyed the unit and I am glad it has forced me “play with” apps that I have been intending to explore but have been putting off.

First of all, after previously having stuck with IE, I installed Google Chrome at the start of this unit. Besides IE, I have some experience with Firefox and Safari but they had not convinced me to switch. After only 1½ weeks with Google Chrome, I am a convert. In particular, I like the apps and extensions available.

Up to now, my techniques for keeping my work organised have been pretty traditional with folders on my computer that I back up to the school network. Once I have backed up the folders to the network, I can access them via the Internet. This works quite well, but I will now make more use of Evernote and have also started using Dropbox. Is Dropbox included in the content of the course? By the way, here is the link to my first ever Evernote.

I save my web links in folders in “Favorites” in Internet Explorer. I keep them in reasonably well organised folders. I have been aware that this is neither efficient nor “social”, but for some reason I had not allowed myself the time to “get into” Diigo or other social bookmarking tools. Doing this unit has made me make a commitment to change my habits. However, I am still somewhat undecided between using Diigo, or just sticking to Evernote for everything. I am leaning towards just using Evernote. Why would I use two different tools, when Evernote can do it all?

Teaching workflow and organisation techniques to students is vitally important and needed. Most of our students are unorganised and have notes, links, documents etc “all over the place” and seem to struggle. They waste much time by looking through folders to find the right version of the right document. Often, they seem to have forgotten that the most recent version of a document is on the computer at home, and cannot be accessed from school. Some of them are learning to use tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, but the majority of them struggle or rely on carrying USB memory sticks, which are frequently lost. I think we have a job in teaching our students the skills required.

Digital technologies have changed the way we work and organise ourselves. We can work from anywhere, as long as we make use of web tools effectively. Most of us are still learning to do this. We need to make time for this learning, to be able to work “smarter”.
I am now looking forward to a 4-day Easter weekend, and I will spend some of this time doing Unit 3 of the course.

Happy Easter!

Time to get started…

Islands have always been important to me. I grew up on one and now I live on the biggest island in the world. Or so I have been told. To me, Australia is a continent. An island, on the other hand, is a small piece of land, like my home, Gotland, size 2,994 km² and Sweden’s largest island.

Evasplaces

23 years ago I moved across the globe to another beautiful place, Sydney. In Sweden, I had taught History and Geography, and once in Australia I saw the light and completed a postgraduate degree to become a Teacher Librarian.

After 11 years I still love my job at Barker College in the northern suburbs of Sydney. I love the vitality of our students and working with them in different ways: encouraging them to read widely, research effectively, reference properly and become responsible digital citizens.

I am now doing the PLN course organised by SLAV and the State Library of Victoria to become more familiar with web 2.0 tools and incorporate them more in my work practices, both for myself and in my work with students. With the national curriculum coming, our school is increasing its emphasis on digital literacy and the Teacher Librarians are some of the main drivers of this project.

I have been using web tools for a long time but there is so much available these days that it is hard to keep up. My early explorations with creating in a web environment were when I created a web site as my final project for my Master’s degree. This was a fairly complicated process back in the 1990’s. These days I use some web 2.0 tools, but I am probably not the first to jump on to anything new. I need to be convinced of its worth. Most tools are now intuitive, and I find that once I decide to start using a tool, the process is quite straight forward.

My Personal Learning Network mainly consists of my wonderful colleagues at Barker College Library. We are a great team of Teacher Librarians who work together to educate each other. When I get the opportunity (which is not as often as I would like), I go to AIS NSW Teacher Librarian meetings and also attend other professional development activities. I look forward to extending my PLN through this course.

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